Guide to Teacher Visas in the USA
Cultural exchange programs provide opportunities for exchanging knowledge and establishing relationships between people of different nationalities. One of the most common types of US exchange programs is the J-1 visa teacher program, which involves foreign teachers visiting the US on a teacher visa.
You must be a qualified teacher in your home country to be eligible for a US teacher visa. In this article we give you all the most important information on obtaining a teacher visa, including the relevant qualifications, benefits, and application process.
What is a Teacher Visa?
The J-1 visa teacher program is a category of J-1 visa, which encompasses a number of cultural and educational exchange programs. Under a teacher visa, foreign teachers can visit the US and teach in an accredited primary or secondary school for up to 3 years.
What are the Qualifications for a Teacher Visa?
To be eligible for a teacher visa, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a credentialed primary or secondary school teacher in your home country;
- Have at least 3 years of teaching experience or relevant professional experience
- Meet the standards set by the US state in which they will be teaching
- Visit the US for the sole purpose of teaching full-time at a primary or secondary school
- Be fluent enough in English to communicate freely with US students
Details About the Teacher Visa in the USA
The goal of the J-1 visa teacher program is for foreign teachers to familiarize themselves with US teaching methods, so they can apply these methods at home. The program also exposes US students to an international perspective and promotes cultural exchange.
The main form that you must submit to apply for a teacher visa is the DS-2019. Individuals applying for a teacher visa also must submit sponsorship letters which verify the applicant’s ability and character for the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS). However, you must have received and accepted an employment offer from a US primary or secondary school before you submit your form DS-2019 and sponsorship letters.
Your teacher visa will only cover the institution that you have listed on your DS-2019; earning income from any other teaching work is prohibited. Since the maximum length you can stay in the US on a teacher visa is 3 years, your US teaching position must be temporary.
Benefits of a Teacher Visa
Working in the US on a teacher visa is extremely valuable work experience. Getting a teacher visa lets you build your skills in a unique environment, learn new teaching methods, and grow comfortable with teaching diverse groups of students. Schools treasure teachers with international teaching experience, and the students benefit as well from exposure to new cultures, ideas, and methods.
Experience as a foreign teacher in the US is beneficial not only for your career, but also as a valuable personal experience. You’ll get to try new activities, visit new places, meet different people, and generally broaden your horizons. Teacher visas last up to three years, and can be renewed as long as you stay outside of the US for 2 years before you reapply.
How to Apply for a Teacher Visa in the USA
There are 4 steps to applying for a teacher visa in the US:
- Step #1: Find a sponsor for your visa: First, you must get accepted by a program on the US State Department list of designated J-1 sponsorship organizations. These organizations typically look for applicants with English-language skills, and your sponsor will help you apply.
- Step #2: Submit a Form DS-2019: This form is called the “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status,” and you must submit one to get an interview for your teacher visa at the US Consulate. Your sponsoring organization will provide you with a DS-2019 which describes the details of the position (like the start and end date, duties, and the cost of the program). Fill out the empty fields to the best of your ability and send the form into the USCIS.
- Step #3: Pay the application fees: When you submit your Form DS-2019, you must also include a check or money order that covers the relevant application fees. These fees include a $180 SEVIS 1-901 fee and a $160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application Processing fee. However, individuals taking part in programs sponsored by the US State Department, US Agency for International Development (USAID) or a US government-funded educational exchange program are exempted from the Nonimmigrant Visa Application Processing fee.
- Step #4: US Embassy/Consulate Interview: The final approval for your teacher visa must be granted by an immigration officer at your local US embassy or consulate. At this interview you will be questioned about the program and type of teaching work you will do, your personal background and work experience, how you plan to cover expenses in the US, and more. Since teacher visas are nonimmigrant visas it’s crucial that you are clear in your interview that you intend to return home after your visa expires.
Can a Teacher Visa Be Renewed?
Yes, teacher visas can be renewed, but only if you have lived outside of the US for a minimum of two years since the expiration of your initial visa. Also, you must still meet the eligibility requirements to participate in the visa program again.
Visiting the US on a teacher visa is a unique opportunity to have new experiences, grow your resume, and become a more skilled teacher. It’s important that you receive confirmation of the details of your program, including a letter from your sponsor stating the compensation and length of the program. Sometimes J-1 sponsors fail to live up to their promises, and getting a written commitment will protect you if your sponsor reneges on their conditions.
Your sponsor is also responsible for involving you in community and cultural exchange activities, so take advantage of all the opportunities they offer. The more you involve yourself in the school and community during your stay, the more you will get out of your teacher visa.